As expected, here is my review of LAIKA's latest…
WARNING: Spoilers! As always…
So yes, I finally saw The Boxtrolls. It is certainly one of the year's most unique animated features, because the studio behind it never shies away from quirkiness or something that's a little more out there. Coraline was positively Henry Selick and loaded with spooky moments and scares, while ParaNorman recalled 80s family films tying them to - again - spooky imagery and themes. LAIKA's latest is definitely different, as it's not really a horror-type film. Instead, it's more of a straightforward story about a gang of misunderstood misfits going up against a menace that's a threat their existence.
Despite the story having trolls in it, there are very few sheds of the scary stuff that made Coraline and ParaNorman stand out, though it does have its moments. The Boxtrolls' titular characters live under a town on a hill in Victorian-era England, a town called Cheesebridge. As its name implies, the townspeople are all about cheeses. An exterminator named Archibald Snatcher wants to be in a high echelon of its society, a "White Hat". He makes a deal with the White Hats' leader, Lord Portley-Rind: If he captures and destroys all of the feared boxtrolls, he'll become a White Hat. Portley-Rind happens to be the father of one our main characters.
The boxtrolls are presumed to be bloodthirsty monsters who steal children and eat them. But they're actually a sweet and eccentric bunch, trying to make a living and making cool machines and inventions out of objects. They use discarded boxes as shells, and whatever the box was intended to store becomes the name of its wearer. Socks, fish, eggs, etc. Amongst the boxtrolls is a boy named Eggs, who ends up having to thwart the villainous exterminator with the help of Portley-Rind's daughter, Winifred,who has a fascination with the creatures.
Again, it's pretty straightforward. Eggs and Winnie have to crack some clues, stop Snatcher, and save the boxtrolls. All the while, Eggs wants to prove to Cheesebridge that the trolls aren't bad creatures at all. It's just too bad that Cheesebridge's people are pretty ignorant, plus we learn the secret of Eggs' origins, which makes for a nice addition. While this story is solid and all, I felt that a lot of it could've used some polish. Some ideas are brought up, such as messages of what parents should be to their children and accepting others, but it seems like they are tacked on more than anything. This is something of a shock, considering LAIKA's past two films which contained strong themes.
I'm not against a story that doesn't have such themes, but I think The Boxtrolls shows at times that it wants to be a little more than a simple good guys-vs-bad guy and prejudiced town romp. It at times has a sort of glass-half-full feeling, like there's something special brewing in there but it didn't really get its chance to shine. While it runs roughly 95 minutes, the film is perhaps a little too fast-paced and too focused on the plot. That all being said, there is heart and the characters are all very likable. For me, that makes up for the rather unsure script. The other thing that bolsters the film is just the look and feel of it…
Cheesebridge really comes to life, and as usual with a LAIKA film, the work is simply jaw-dropping. Everything is pretty much crafted to perfection, and the character designs are fantastic. I'm not sure what some of the critics mean when they say the film is so excessively ugly or grotesque or whatever. Sure, it's not the cutest and prettiest animated film, but I thought all of the characters were appealing. I liked the titular trolls, I liked the human characters, I thought the character design was unique and out-there, but not uninviting. It compliments the look of the town, the look of the whole film, it's different and refreshing. No one complained about ParaNorman's asymmetrical, groundbreaking look, what is everyone's problem with this? I thought the whole film looked fantastic. Not only that, but it's inventive and there are lots of cool little things throughout.
The cast gives it their all, Dario Marianelli's score is fine, the atmosphere is wonderful. It's perhaps LAIKA's most crowd pleaser-ish movie, as it is very, very entertaining despite its story and script issues. It puts a smile on your face in some way, and there's lots of wit and good humor sprinkled in. There's arguably something in it for everyone. I was with an audience of families, mixed age ranges, and there was an applause when it ended. Also, the traditionally animated end credits were a real treat. Makes me wish LAIKA would get cracking on a feature-length 2D film, but the mid-credits scene is just perfect. Irreverent, hilarious, and a great showcase of the hard work that goes into a single scene in stop-motion animation… I just hope other audiences around the world stay and catch that little treat, but who am I kidding?
On the whole, The Boxtrolls is first-rate entertainment with a fantastic style and edge. It's beautiful to look at and the characters are likable, plus there are many surprises and whatnot. I just wish that the storytelling could've been a little sharper and the script a little more cohesive, and that maybe it would've explore its themes a little more. I also wish it didn't breeze through its runtime like there was no tomorrow because what they had was so good. I like it when any film has moments where it breathes a little bit, where it takes its time but never drags. This film could've benefited from moments like that, along a few other things. Even if I don't think it's as good as the studio's first two masterpieces, what matters is that it's incredibly entertaining and definitely worth checking out on the big screen!